2.3 What is an informal carer?
Lynne is a daughter and a sister. Is she also an informal carer?
Audio: click below to listen to the case study on 'Caring in Familes'
Transcript: Caring in Families
Activity 2: What Lynne does and does not do
Listen to the first two scenes of the audio clip 'Caring in families: a case study' again. After listening, write down the answers to the questions below.
What tasks does Lynne do for her father and what does she not do for him?
Washing his clothes?
Shopping for him?
Preparing and heating his meals?
Helping him on the toilet?
Giving him his injections?
Paying the rent?
Think about how the things Lynne does not do for Arthur differ from those she does.
Is Lynne rewarded for what she does for Arthur?
Here is what I noted:
Lynne mentions shopping, preparing and heating his meals, doing his washing. She pays the rent. She does not wash him, assist him in going to the toilet, dress him or give him his injections.
I thought that washing, toileting and dressing are tasks which demand considerable physical closeness and touching. This she avoids. Giving him his medication also requires a degree of physical closeness, perhaps, but its main difference from the tasks Lynne does lies in the level of responsibility implied. If she got the medication wrong consistently, her father's condition might get worse, and that would have serious consequences. So the things she does not do differ from those she does in two ways:
she does not do things which demand a lot of touching, physical closeness;
she does not do things which carry a high level of responsibility.
Well, Lynne is not rewarded in any conventional sense. She is not paid. It is possible she gets some kind of emotional reward, although that is not immediately obvious.
Why does Lynne draw the line where she does? As far as physical closeness goes, if Lynne were to dress or wash Arthur it would be deviating from the normal rules which govern social behavior. It is not common for women to touch men unless they are in a fairly intimate relationship – partners, lovers, mothers with young sons. To start taking her father to the toilet would mean breaking an unwritten social rule about how adults behave towards one another, specifically how adult daughters behave with their fathers. She would see his genitals, possibly have to wipe his bottom. When it comes to administering medication, we heard it is the community nurse's responsibility. The nurse might well be held responsible if anything went wrong.
So these are tasks Lynne does or does not do for Arthur. Is this what we mean by care? It is a long way from the sort of care the poem refers to. It is not care in the sense of an all-enveloping love and protection. But it is done without payment, and it involves doing things for a family member which need doing. In fact it is much more like the sort of caring assumed in policy documents and in research studies on health and social care.
In 1994, Parker and Lawton analysed census data and drew up a list of the sorts of tasks done by informal carers in the home.
What informal carers do
personal services, like washing someone, or taking them to the toilet
physical labour, like changing bedclothes, doing laundry, moving people who cannot move without assistance
paperwork, like paying bills, writing letters
practical assistance, like fetching prescriptions, shopping
keeping people company
taking people out
keeping people occupied.
So is Lynne what we might describe as an ‘informal carer’? She does not call herself one, but nowadays we have government policy and legislation about carers. Is she the sort of person they mean? This is the subject of your next activity.
Activity 3 Is Lynne a carer?
Compare the tasks Lynne does for Arthur with Parker and Lawton's list of what informal carers do (see Box above). Which of them does she do? Which does she not do?
These are my thoughts:
Lynne's contribution to her father's welfare includes physical labour, paying bills and practical assistance.
She does not do what Parker and Lawton term personal services, and expresses distaste at the prospect of even touching him. She does not give him medicine.
As far as we know she does not take him out, or keep him occupied, but she does keep him company to a limited extent, just by being around at times.
If she did not do any of these things, someone else would have to do them – possibly a paid carer. In these terms, Lynne probably is a carer although, as I noted earlier, she does not call herself one, and neither do other people in the drama. Arthur certainly does not see her as his carer. To him, she is his mentally handicapped daughter.